Cornell came out with passion. It came out firing on all cylinders. After a disappointing season, it came out with something to prove. Unfortunately for the Red, Penn (8-4, 5-2 Ivy) came out with Lady Luck.
When senior tri-captains Greg Barratt’s shot attempt was blocked at the buzzer, giving Penn a 59-57 victory, Cornell (6–15, 2–6 Ivy) hit its lowest point of the season.
“It has been a disappointing season, there’s no moral victory, even though we gave Penn all that they could handle,” head coach Steve Donahue lamented. “But I was proud of the effort, they followed the game plan, and did everything they could to win the game.”
And the Red certainly had its chances. In the final three seconds, the team called three timeouts to setup the perfect play: an inbounds pass to Barratt at the head of key, who would then send it over to senior Kevin Cuttica for the winning three-point basket. But Barratt couldn’t get the pass off as the Quaker defender lunged in his face. Barratt turned and attempted a desperation 3-pointer, but his shot was blocked. Penn had preserved the victory.
“One call here, one call there, layup here, we win,” junior guard Wallace Prather said. “We played well, just a couple of things we could have done better, just gotten one call different, the game could have been different.”
Coach Donahue and his team fought a gutsy battle right down to the wire — going for the win rather than the tie. Throughout the night, the Red challenged every shot and left no man wide open while relying on torrid shooting.
Five of its first six baskets were three-pointers as Cornell took an early 17–14 lead. Two turnovers by Barnes allowed Penn to take the 20–17 lead, but the Red then got patient on offense, finding open men, and reeled off nine straight points to take a 26–20 lead. After both teams worked the inside, Prather’s three-pointer, with under two minutes in the half, gave the Red a 33–28 lead going into the locker room.
For the half, the Red shot 44% from beyond the arc while holding the Quakers to just 33.3% shooting.
“We’re not a great three-point shooting team, we were trying to take what [Penn] gave us,” coach Donahue explained. “In the first half, I think they slacked off on us, and in the second half they made a concerted effort to get up on us, so we, in turn, tried to dribble and get the ball inside.”
Early in the second half, the Red extended their lead to 42-32, punctuated by a Prather steal followed by a breakaway layup.
“Usually my teammates feed off of me – if I get some shots, if I play defense, get some steals, everyone gets into the game,” Prather said.
With 12 minutes left in the game, it seemed Cornell had put the game in the bag. But Penn had not yet begun to fight.
Hitting 68% of their shots, while holding the Red to only 28%, the Quakers clawed back to within one point. The Red pulled away to 51–45 when Barnes cut through two defenders before draining a floater in the lane.
“We knew they were going to make a run, they did, and we answered it,” Donahue said.
With three minutes left in the game, Penn jumped out to a 57–53 advantage. However, two free throws by Cuttica cut the lead to two.
On its next possession, Penn threw the ball away, and Cornell had its chance to tie the game. After remaining patient, Luke Vernon missed a open three-ball. The Red quickly got back on defense and with 59.1 seconds in the game, forced another turnover.
After moving the ball around the court, Prather shot a three-pointer from just right of the head of the key and missed, but Mercedes was right there under the basket for the put back, tying the game at 57 apiece. Cornell was one possession away from the upset.
Penn, instead of calling a timeout, raced down the court and with five seconds on the clock, and scored on an alley-oop from guard Dave Klatsky.
Cornell proceeded to call three timeouts, but couldn’t pull off the victory.
“It was a spectacular play to win it, and a great game,” Donahue conceded. “I thought we played very well against a very good team. They did everything possible to win the game.”
Prather expressed similar sentiments: “We’re used to playing close with Penn. We just came out to play, the biggest thing we had to lose was a basketball game. We tried to make things happen, the energy was flowing . . .”
Archived article by Sumeet Sarin